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Listicle of Victory!

[ 41 ] November 13, 2014 |

My take on the five biggest American military victories:

 This article examines five great American victories, spanning from 1780 until 1944. We’re looking for neither technically impressive victories (although most of these are), nor predictable thrashings. With one major exception, these battles did not turn on chance or on the need for remarkable heroism (although such heroism was always present). Instead, these successes came at the end of well-conceived and executed campaigns, designed to integrate the elements of national power into a strategic victory. We’re looking at how the United States built a series of advantages that led inexorably to victory, even if the outcome sometimes remained in doubt until the final play.


[ 169 ] November 13, 2014 |

Well, this is hell of a thing.

“I read it with mounting uneasiness,” Asimov wrote the next year. “I kept waiting for something to happen, and nothing ever did. All three volumes, all the nearly quarter of a million words, consisted of thoughts and of conversation. No action. No physical suspense.”

Asimov’s self-deprecating description of his own series sounds as inviting as a synopsis of Season 1 of The Leftovers. And soon, it might be available for the same subscription price: According to a report at The Wrap earlier this week, Jonathan Nolan (brother of Christopher, and cowriter ofInterstellar) is writing and producing an HBO/Warner Bros. TV series based on The Foundation Trilogy.1

I wonder if we can avoid Ben Kingsley as Hari Seldon? And let me be the first to put in a vote for Robin Lord Taylor as the Mule.

There’s nothing I’d like better than a well-executed television version of the Foundation trilogy (we’ll set aside, for the moment, the prequels and sequels).  And there’s no one more capable of doing this well than HBO.  But having read the entire trilogy a dozen times, I struggle to come up with the names of more than a handful of characters, most of whom don’t appear until the Mule cycle of stories.  It’s going to be tough.

Foreign Entanglements: The Search for Radical FP

[ 10 ] November 11, 2014 |

On the latest episode of Foreign Entanglements, Freddie deBoer and I talk about the odd alliance between leftists and non-interventionist realists:

It’s a good discussion, take a look. Many thanks to Freddie.

SDI: The Force Awakens

[ 9 ] November 11, 2014 |

My latest at the National Interest takes a look at the legacy of the Strategic Defense Initiative:

The Strategic Defense Initiative, or “Star Wars,” is over thirty years old. SDI has never, despite the intentions of several presidents, provided the United States with an effective, reliable defense against the ballistic missiles of an opponent of the scale of the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, the inauguration of the SDI project marks a crucial inflection point in the history of missile defense in the United States.

But appreciating the break that Star Wars represented requires an understanding of what went before. Ronald Reagan didn’t start the national conversation on missile defense, but he did revive it, and that revival has set the terms for the debate ever since.

Some other links:


[ 36 ] November 9, 2014 |

This was insane.

All night, the telecast used a weird, flat angle that made it hard to follow the action on the field. That angle contributed to the confusion here; some guy’s head is in the way when Clay drops the ball, so neither the TV audiences nor (apparently) the announcers could understand the problem. I don’t know if this was an editorial decision, if there was a technical problem, or if it’s a feature of Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Kudos to the Ducks D for paying attention, though.

… Clay displays a lot of class, as do Utah fans. Thank goodness he doesn’t play for Alabama.

Zero Sum Client States

[ 6 ] November 8, 2014 |

My latest at the Diplomat:

One way we know that we haven’t quite arrived at a new Cold War is that this sort of competition has not yet begun between the United States and China. The U.S. and China both have interests in Africa, Latin America, and Central Asia, but in few or no cases can we say that a government has drifted into Beijing’s “column.”

Over the past few weeks we’ve seen several vaguely cautious articles about Chinese influence in Afghanistan. In the Cold War, the prospect of the Soviet Union gaining influence anywhere in the world would set off alarms in Washington. This makes me wonder: would anyone, anywhere in the national security bureaucracy of the United States, begrudge Beijing the opportunity to take on Afghanistan as a client state?

Thursday Links

[ 33 ] November 6, 2014 |

Some afternoon links:

East and South China Seas

[ 3 ] November 5, 2014 |

I contributed to and organized this report for Wikistrat:

The East and South China Seas territorial disputes, including but not limited to the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, the Spratlys and the Scarborough Shoal, have not only increased in complexity but are an area of concern for the United States. The lands in question hold historical and strategic significance and highly sought-after potential energy reserves. As China has grown in power and asserted its regional influence, it has looked to increase its claim to these territories, causing concern among neighboring states with similar claims. Under these circumstances, the current international order in East Asia, maintained by the United States, comes into question.


Book News

[ 6 ] November 3, 2014 |

First, a negative but thoughtful review of Grounded from Tony Carr:

Is there a chance that independent airpower could fall prey to budget austerity and departmental defense reform? While the idea seems far-fetched, the Air Force was nervous enough about it a few years ago to mobilize authors and affiliates to raise a pre-emptive defense. This anxiety reflects recognition that the country is in uncharted budgetary and defense territory, and that the Air Force — an agency without a Constitutional mandate — could be stripped of independent status with comparative ease.

Cue scholar Robert Farley, who recently rendered the Air Force a service with his book “Grounded: The Case For Abolishing the United States Air Force.

Read the whole thing, etc. More importantly, the University Press of Kentucky has decided to grace this fair Earth with a paperback edition of Grounded. To quote Stephen Colbert: “if you did not get this before, get it now. And if you did get it before, get it now.”

Sunday Links

[ 6 ] November 2, 2014 |

A few links to help you weather the relentless, brutal passage of time:


[ 6 ] October 31, 2014 |

My latest at the Diplomat highlights some recent work on how the Tu-22M Backfire affected US and Soviet naval doctrine:

The Tu-22M Backfire bomber entered service in 1972, with the Soviets eventually producing almost 500 aircraft.  Theories about the plane abounded (some argued that it represented the USSR’s most serious foray into a strategic nuclear bomber force), but eventually it became clear that the most important use for the bomber would come as a maritime strike aircraft.  The Backfire gave the Soviet Navy a supersonic aircraft that it could use in mass to fire anti-surface missiles against U.S. carrier battle groups.

Cited in the article, but if the topic interests please read the five part series (I, II, III, IV, V) on the subject at Information Dissemination, as well as the original Naval War College Review article.


[ 52 ] October 30, 2014 |

So you’ve probably seen all of this:

Over the years, Obama administration officials have described Netanyahu to me as recalcitrant, myopic, reactionary, obtuse, blustering, pompous, and “Aspergery.” (These are verbatim descriptions; I keep a running list.) But I had not previously heard Netanyahu described as a “chickenshit.” I thought I appreciated the implication of this description, but it turns out I didn’t have a full understanding. From time to time, current and former administration officials have described Netanyahu as a national leader who acts as though he is mayor of Jerusalem, which is to say, a no-vision small-timer who worries mainly about pleasing the hardest core of his political constituency. (President Obama, in interviews with me, has alluded to Netanyahu’s lack of political courage.)

“The good thing about Netanyahu is that he’s scared to launch wars,” the official said, expanding the definition of what a chickenshit Israeli prime minister looks like. “The bad thing about him is that he won’t do anything to reach an accommodation with the Palestinians or with the Sunni Arab states. The only thing he’s interested in is protecting himself from political defeat. He’s not [Yitzhak] Rabin, he’s not [Ariel] Sharon, he’s certainly no [Menachem] Begin. He’s got no guts.”

I ran this notion by another senior official who deals with the Israel file regularly. This official agreed that Netanyahu is a “chickenshit” on matters related to the comatose peace process, but added that he’s also a “coward” on the issue of Iran’s nuclear threat.

These quotes fill me with interesting thoughts and feelings!

  • It’s very interesting to me (although not surprising) that Bibi’s efforts to look tough and resolute to one crowd (domestic audience, Israel backers in US),come off as cowardly and irresolute to another (the Obama admin). Policymakers face different priorities; it’s almost impossible that they can look tough to everyone. Reaffirms my view that reputation is complex, multifaceted, and that generally it’s a waste of time to spend blood and treasure on displaying “resolve.”
  • The depth of the animosity towards Bibi is intriguing, but not particularly surprising. Bibi’s most significant mistake in handling the United States has been his urge to turn Israel into a partisan issue, and throw in with the Republican Party. It hasn’t happened quite yet, but you can see the threat on the horizon. It’s an apocalyptical stupid move for Bibi to make, however emotionally satisfying it may be in the moment to rail against the weakness of a Democratic President.
  • Speaking of apocalyptic stupidity, can we all agree now on just how bad the 2010 “Israel is about to bomb Iran” article from Jeffrey Goldberg was? You remember; Goldberg breathlessly transcribed the statements of Israeli policymakers on how they viewed the Iranian nuclear program as a VERY SERIOUS MATTER that would require VERY SERIOUS BOMBING unless Obama did something. That the article amounted to a transparent Israeli bluff should have been obvious at the time, but inexplicably some people took it seriously.  Turns out now that the Obama administration has concluded that Bibi is chickenshit, in part because of the serial claims about Bibi’s dire views of the Iranian threat. Cry wolf enough times, even Americans will stop believing you.
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